Thursday, July 20, 2006

Moby-Dick

This is one tough novel: big, confusing. It leaves you wanting to re-read it

If you wanted to know the difference in structure (as opposed to scale) between a short story and a novel, Moby-Dick (or, The Whale) is probably the as good an exemplar one would find of the novel form. Where a short story focuses on a single event, action, or mood, a novel tends to take the air a bit more -- perambulate, follow its own muse, wander. And wander Moby Dick does. It goes and goes and goes. Melville wrote that he had written a wicked novel. I wonder if that is perceptible to a 21st century sensibility. He strolls through various modernisms: Calvinism, pantheism, Kantianism, indifferentism, relativism, pessimism. Ahab -- what to make of him: sacrilegious, demonic, monomaniac, striving. A shadow of Christian belief, no longer sufficiently vital to bring salvation, but more than adequate to reinforce notions of depravity and condemnation, hangs over the novel.

Also, Moby-Dick will give you a new appreciation for Star Trek. The episodic nature of the novel makes possible a bunch of self-contained mini-plots, each of which could be spun into its own little story. There's the encounter with a ship that has been taken over by a charismatic preacher and his converted followers. There's a ship in search of an abandoned crew, and one that is filled with bon vivants, appropriately named The Bachelor.

There's undoubtedly a lot I've missed. Like a whale, this novel's soul is submerged most of the time, only occasionally spouting or breeching to reveal awesome and fearful sights.
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